Why Habits Are Better Than Homeschool Goals

Homeschool goals are a topic of conversation in every single homeschool space. YouTube, Facebook, and homeschool blogs are filled with reasons why you should set homeschool goals. Homeschool influencers are very excited to share their goals with you.

As a second-generation homeschooler, I have spent more than thirty years in the world of homeschooling. I have heard all kinds of advice and ideas about the right way to homeschool successfully. One piece of advice I will never follow is this: You have to set homeschool goals.

Why Habits are Better Than Homeschool Goals

Here is why I think you should stop setting homeschool goals, and what to do instead.

The Problem with Setting Homeschool Goals

While being goal-oriented isn’t all bad, there are some big weaknesses with setting homeschool goals.

Hard to Achieve

When you set goals, it is just so easy to not achieve them.

Many times we’re told that achieving big goals is just a matter of hard work. The fact of the matter is sometimes, no matter how hard we work, accomplishing a goal is not fully in our control.

I talk to many homeschool parents that set a goal for their child to become an advanced student. This is extremely common, especially amongst new homeschoolers. They often have visions of teaching their three-year-olds to read and expect their kindergarteners to memorize their multiplication facts. This might seem to some like an achievable goal, as long as the parent is putting in the work.

Too often parents become discouraged and feel as though they have failed when the reality of not meeting the goal hits. In setting homeschool goals we don’t factor in things like the time it takes to get a three-year-old to learn, underlying learning challenges, or the fact that a young child might not care about learning to read yet.

In the process of trying to accomplish a goal, our children can make progress in so many areas of learning, yet we might not meet our goal. Not meeting a goal tends to bring our focus on failure and not all of the little achievements along the way.

Too Far in the Future

Goals look too far into the future.

In February of 2020, my family was traveling and had a goal to go world school in Australia. In a month’s time, everything changed. What we thought our homeschool would look like and the goals we thought were attainable suddenly became out of reach.

Simply stated, life is unpredictable. We can think our goals are realistic, but we don’t know what reality will look like. Even setting a yearly homeschool goal might be looking too far ahead, because things change so quickly. Then once again, we leave a goal unachieved.

No Instructions

Goals don’t come with instructions.

Before I began homeschooling my oldest, I read a book about a family that sent all of their kids to college at age 12. They made it seem super simple.

This became a goal I had for my son, who was a first-grader at the time. At the time it seemed like a reasonable goal to me. I mean, another family managed to do it, so I could too.

Fast forward a few years, and that child is now 14. He’s not in college. What I didn’t know back then, was how to make a child college ready by age 12. It seemed like just a matter of hard work and pushing hard academically, but it’s not.

One of the biggest shortcomings of goal setting is this: There’s no clear road map on how to actually achieve a goal.  

Goal setting gurus will say to just stay positive, or stay motivated. As if positivity and motivation are some magical tools to achieve the unattainable.

Build Habits Instead of Setting Homeschool Goals

There’s a lot we need to accomplish by the time our children graduate from our homeschool. We all want good things for our children in the future. If we don’t set goals, how do we set out to accomplish this?  The answer is simple: habits.

The Magic of Creating Habits in our Homeschool

Rather than focusing on the big picture or looking far into the future, creating habits focuses on the here and now. Taking small steps every single day will eventually bring big accomplishments.

In the book, Home Education, Charlotte Mason writes, “The formation of habits is education, and education is the formation of habits.” Every day as we teach our kids at home, we are helping them form habits. Think about homeschooling as a habit.

Habits Focus on Character

While goals focus on achievement, habits focus on character and teach important life skills for kids. When our homeschoolers practice the habits of attentiveness, obedience, or even cleanliness they are building good character. Character will eventually lead to achievement.

If you have a child that is attentive they can actually learn from others. If your attentive homeschooler finds themselves in a different learning environment, they will be able to adapt and learn. Being attentive to what others have to say is also an important social skill that seems lost by so many today.

The habit of obedience in children makes for good employees as adults. I am not talking about blind obedience, but the willingness to take instruction from another person.

In my home, the habit of cleanliness makes for a more peaceful home and a happier mom. Cleanliness is a habit that will serve my kids well for life.

There are many, many more habits that lead to good character. Rather than setting a goal for our kids’ success, if we teach them to build good habits they will create their own success.

Habits are Automatic

There are probably hundreds of habits we do every day and we don’t even notice. The beauty of a habit is that once it is created, we don’t have to think about it. There is no need to create a vision board or reward system to keep us going because a well-trained habit doesn’t take that much focus.

The automatic nature of habits leads to smoother homeschool days. Many new homeschool parents tell me that they are met with resistance from their children over homeschool work. My advice often is to just keep going. Eventually, homeschooling becomes a habit and then becomes automatic.

My kids don’t argue or resist doing homeschool with me. This isn’t because I’m a harsh disciplinarian or even a great cheerleader. It’s because we’ve spent day after day consistently building a homeschool habit. They don’t have to think about or question what a weekday will bring because it is now automatic.

How to Create a Habit (In 4 Simple Steps)

1. Create an Identity

Be honest with yourself about areas that need some habit training. In the book Atomic Habits, author James Clear suggests creating an identity statement as a foundation for building habits.

Instead of identifying an action, I need to drill math facts with my kids, an identity statement would be, I want to create strong math students.

Drilling math facts might be a habit you implement as part of that identity but start with the identity, not the action.

2. Start With One Step

After you create your identity statement, pick one step to implement as part of that identity. In my example earlier about creating strong math students, I mentioned drilling math facts. That might be a great first step in creating a strong math identity, but I would be even more specific.

A very specific step in creating strong math students might look like this. On Tuesday and Thursday, we will spend 15 minutes working on our twos multiplication facts. We will use flashcards and games to practice. Then leave it at that.

One of the things I find that people like to do is scale up too quickly. If we can do 15 minutes twice a week, then we might as well do an hour. It’s better to keep each step small and consistent so it’s harder to skip. Skipping is how habits fail.

3. Stack or Piggyback

I think this is the best tool for creating habits. Think of a habit you are already doing, and piggyback your new habit to it. This is how I tied dental hygiene into our homeschool habits.

I wanted my kids to create a flossing habit. When I would take them to the dentist it was obvious that they were brushing, but the flossing wasn’t happening on a regular basis. The hygienist suggested handing them a floss pick when they were watching TV. Since we have tried to not create a TV habit, I had to piggyback this to something else.

We created a read-aloud habit in our homeschool from day one, so I decided to piggyback on this habit. My kids now floss their teeth during read-aloud time. I keep a pack of floss picks in my desk, so it’s easy to hand them a flosser when I grab a book. Yes, it looks weird when they are sitting at their desks practicing dental hygiene, but they now floss their teeth regularly.

This is how piggybacking a habit works. We created an effective flossing habit by stacking it onto our read-aloud time. Find something that is automatically done every day, and piggyback the new habit onto the old.

4. Follow Through

It is important to be consistent with our habits and to encourage our kids to follow through. I am not talking about nagging or punishments when they lose track of good habits. Gentle nudging and encouraging our kids to keep on with their habits is important. It’s much easier to break a habit than it is to build one.

Habits Are the Key to Accomplishing Goals

While some people are very goal-driven, habits are really the key to a successful homeschool. Even if you want to keep setting homeschool goals, I would encourage you to look at habits as the key to achieving those goals. Implementing good habits into our homeschool will build good character and set our kids up for success in life.

Jessica Hawley

About the author

Jessica Hawley is a second generation homeschooler, content creator, conference speaker, and boy-mom to a teen and pre-teen. She is married to Josh Hawley (not the senator) who is also a second generation homeschooler. Jessica has been in the world of homeschooling for over nearly three decades. When she is not homeschooling or creating content for My Homeschool with a View, Jessica likes running, hiking, kayaking and traveling with her family.

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